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Build Your Branded Gear Empire (and Close The Gift Shop.)

Updated: Dec 17, 2023


A contemporary Alexander The Great if Alexander the Great owned the best Brewery this side of Chicago, He wears a Navy Heavyweight Hoodie and An Embroidered baseball cap with a Crown Patch on top. He Stands in front of a bar that he owns and operates.
"When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” - Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)

Small thinking is often rewarded with small returns while big thinking is returned with great rewards. We as business owners are afraid of making big moves because we are afraid of making big risks. If we invest in a whole box of t-shirts, 100 hats and 90 bags of branded Knick knacks and doo dads and put them up in a gift shop how are we going to be assured that our business is going to see return on the suck cost. The answer is you can’t. When you unwittingly throw money around at companies that are functioning solely on the need to sell doo dads you have no assurance that you will sell all of the said doo dads.

"When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” - Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)

Big picture planning needs to begin way before you order those doo dads. You need to begin planning at the branding stage. Good design is incremental and should be considered in phases. Each phase becomes a little more ambitious. Each step is you cover more territory; take bigger risks on higher value items. All the while you fortify your risks with strategic thinking. You can’t control how a customer will react to your product all you can control is everything else. How is the product displayed. How have you presented the product online. How have you designed the graphics used on your branded apparel? Of what quality are the products you’ve chosen? You must choose as a warrior chooses a blade to do battle.


A New Vision in Apparel Design


First of all you need to throw out the way you think about merchandise and apparel. Right now you probably see shirts and hats and sweatshirts maybe socks. They all have your logo and maybe a fun slogan and a few graphic variations. They come in big Gildan boxes and they live on a shelf in the back of your establishment. This is the way its been. The new wave of merch design starts with the design. Its about developing a system of branding that can be restructured and rebuilt into a variety of graphics and logo-hits. You take your logo and you build out an alphabet of different variations and concepts that capture the imagination of the full spectrum of your client base.


A man grins brightly in front of a large display of caps. He is hearing a Black Athletic Cap and a Black sweatshirt that features white text logo marks.
This can be repeated on a multitude of garments and hats to develops a fully custom line of merchandise. The Graphics are the foundation of the process and act as the building blocks of your Branded Gear empire.


Each logo graphic is made of modular parts that can be deconstructed and rearranged. The merchandise concepts are built around the modular parts. A logo hit can be placed on the sleeve. a slogan can be placed on the chest pocket or down along the bottom edge of the garment. A custom private label or hang tag can be designed and placed. Various appliques and embroidery styles can be used to push the narrative of the brand. Materials can play a part in the process to elevate the merchandise as well. This can be repeated on a multitude of garments and hats to develops a fully custom line of merchandise. The Graphics are the foundation of the process and act as the building blocks of your Branded Gear empire.


Branded Gear Vs. Merchandise

There is an important distinction to be made between what we understand as merchandise and the idea of “Branded Gear”. The word merchandise for me conjures the image of Florida beach bars and overstocked gift shops with the same logo imprinted on mugs and hats and tie die shirts and lifeguard red hoodies and candles. There is a certain gross excess to it as well as a feeling of cheapness. It signals to the customer that the business is really only interested in squeezing every last dollar out of them as they can. They order cheap so they can sell high and rake in the cash. The customer is left with a shirt that will likely survive less than 4 washes before being sacrificed to a sleep shirt; or worse an unfortunate painting project before being tossed out.


On the other hand Branded Gear is something a little more elevated. I look to the outdoor recreation world for influence when delineating the difference. Heavy Sweatshirts, Waterproof outerwear, Synthetic recycled running hats and micro-corduroy bucket hats. Branded Gear is designed to last. It’s a higher investment on the customers part but in return they get a well made, visually stunning product along with the feeling of buying into the culture of your business. Branded gear tells the story of your brand because it fits the culture. The Appliques and graphics stand out because they have been carefully designed and selected. Branded Gear stands almost in the same corner as Retail Fashion. The difference is that you’ve built it from the ground up with your business’s slogans and branding.


Closing The Gift Shop


Exit through the gift shop as they say. It will be closing soon. Our Branded Gear deserves something better than being displayed next to dusty tumblers, bacon flavored ChapStick and a Groaning Soda fridge. Your Visual Merchandising strategy should be built into your business. As ingrained into your layout as your other offerings. Displays should integrate seamlessly into the flow of your customer experience; Allowing for customers to meander between displays freely interacting with products. This could look like heavy wood table placed strategically between dining areas, carefully designed shelves lining walls along hallways, Well Designed Catalogues and product brochures placed near point of sales. It’s Important to make the customer feel like they are making a discovery. Like they have stumbled upon a particular object that will allow them to participate in the narrative of your business.


A man with a long beard stands at a bar with a large display of alcohol behind him next to a point of sale. The man wears an embroidered bomber jacket and an embroidered flatbill cap.
Every moment where you could choose a hard sell option you can turn into a storytelling, brand elevating experience. This makes your customers feel like they are a part of something not just being sold to. Because no one wants to feel liEvery moment where you could choose a hard sell option you can turn into a storytelling, brand elevating experience. This makes your customers feel like they are a part of something not just being sold to. Because no one wants to feel like they are being sold to. ke they are being sold to.


An additional way to elevate your branded gear and the customer experience is through signage. Signage can provide opportunities for creative and conversational customer experience moments that add another dynamic to your branding. You can use fonts and design elements of your branding system to tell better stories with signage. On one hand you can state the obvious (“now until midnight 99% off.”) Or you can make them into moments of humor or ask questions that help customers more directly engage with the buying experience. Every moment where you could choose a hard sell option you can turn into a storytelling, brand elevating experience. This makes your customers feel like they are a part of something not just being sold to. Because no one wants to feel like they are being sold to.


Elevated E-Commerce Empire


Beyond the customer experience provided by in-store visual merchandising businesses should consider their e-commerce strategy. Product Photography, Models, Environment as well as online store design and layout are all important factors that should be considered. Good Photography can do a lot to help tell your brands story as well as calling out the various branding hits, materials and applique styles that are featured on your products. Selecting the right models and locations that your products are featured in can help contextualize your brand and help your customer identify and connect with the product. Using the proper digital tools to build a visually stunning and engaging customer experience that matches and elevates the premium quality of your product can be the difference between Making a sale and alienating your customer base.


Beyond your e-commerce store and your web presence, the way you present your product on social media can do a lot to attract new sales. Using product photography and carefully curated graphics and media to tell stories and create experiences you can bring in customers who’ve likely never heard of your brand and are now interested in purchasing your gear and your regular offerings as well as patronizing your establishment. Your business is evolving into more than just merchandise; it's becoming a fully functioning apparel business nested within your established brand—an independent branded gear empire.

A young man who is an entreprenuer and service industry owner sits on a stool. He is wearing branded hoodies, wears a nice watch and has a micro-corduroy patch hat with a flat brim. He is sitting in a bar area with dark wood fixtures.
Beyond tangible products, the strategic integration of visual merchandising creates an environment where customers don't merely shop but discover. As you bid farewell to conventional gift shop norms, envision heavy wood tables, strategically placed shelves, and well-designed catalogues inviting customers to engage and explore seamlessly.

In Conclusion

Transitioning from conventional merchandise to a Branded Gear empire demands a profound shift in strategy and mindset. By adopting modular design, prioritizing durable products, and curating immersive customer experiences, your business can transcend the limitations of traditional gift shops. This transformative journey involves envisioning products as interchangeable building blocks, ensuring both flexibility and creativity. Emphasizing longevity over disposability, Branded Gear becomes an investment for customers, fostering advocacy and lasting brand narratives.


Beyond tangible products, the strategic integration of visual merchandising creates an environment where customers don't merely shop but discover. As you bid farewell to conventional gift shop norms, envision heavy wood tables, strategically placed shelves, and well-designed catalogues inviting customers to engage and explore seamlessly. The evolution into the digital realm and social media further extends the Branded Gear empire, ensuring a cohesive and delightful customer journey that elevates your brand to new heights. This is not just a shift; it's a strategic evolution, crafting an enduring legacy that sets new standards in retail and establishes your brand as a beacon of excellence in the world of Branded Gear. Embrace the journey and let your brand's story unfold in ways that surpass all expectations.



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